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November 21, 2001
2301 IST

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Desecration of illegal temple sparks tension in Bombay outskirts

Shiv Kumar in Bombay

Tension prevailed in the sprawling Borivli National Park on the outskirts of Bombay following the desecration of an illegal temple in the area, police said.

The idols of Shiva, Parvati, Hanuman, Ganesh and the 'samadhi' (resting place) of a local saint, Khadeshwar baba, were desecrated on Sunday night, police said.

Inmates of an ashram adjoining the temple informed police about the desecration early on Monday. Police have taken possession of the idols to prevent a flare up. Investigations are underway to nab the culprits.

Police said the devotees of Khadeshwar baba and the park authorities have been at loggerheads for the past several years. The park authorities allege that the temple has been illegally constructed on forest land and have made several attempts to demolish it.

Officials claim that the devotees have constructed cowsheds in the area around the ashram and were engaged in dairy farming in violation of forest laws. The structures had been demolished last year and some demolitions were also carried out about six weeks ago.

The inmates of the ashram and the park authorities are now trading charges.

According to Ramchandra Tyagi, a devotee, the forest department should be held responsible for the desecration. "They are in charge of security at the park," he said.

Forest officials say they do not have enough manpower to patrol the park, which spreads from the suburbs of Bombay into the neighbouring district of Thane and is the only one in the world to be located within a city.

The forest department blames unknown vandals for breaking into the temple.

Deputy conservator of forests Anand Bharti insists that 'it looks like a conspiracy to create communal tension and blame the forest officials'.

Fundamentalist organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal have now threatened to storm the park.

Police say they have beefed up security to prevent any large-scale intrusion of people into the area.

Much of the forests bordering the park are making way for urban settlements, increasing the pressure on the park.

Last year, the Bombay High Court had directed the state government to clear the shantytowns in the area and to construct a boundary wall around the park to prevent further encroachments.

The 22-km long wall will run around the boundary of the park. The court also ordered the government to equip forest guards with wireless sets and vehicles for effective patrolling.

While the wall is under construction, the forest guards are still to get the necessary equipment.

Indo-Asian News Service

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